Love it or hate it, the O2, or as it was originally christened, the Millennium Dome, is a fantastic concert / live event venue. But it can be a pain to get to and from. Now as the crow flies, I live only about 35 miles away from its site perched on the edge of Greenwich and Canary Wharf in London's Docklands area. But a swift check of a journey planner tells me the quickest route to get there is by driving almost 70 miles (around the M25), and at best it will take me 1 hour 20 minutes - with no other cars on the road I presume! Public transport fares even worse with the journey taking almost three hours. I guess I just live on the wrong side of London. But with two concerts booked to attend in the space of ten days (I know!) I decided to let the hotels take the strain of my journeys, and allow me and my family some extra time to enjoy a part of London we had never properly explored. The first concert was the magnificent Adele, and it was our first experience of 'O2'ing' my husband and I booked into the brand new Intercontinental Hotel which is situated right next to the arena. I mean, we were practically rubbing shoulders with Adele in her dressing room! It was our first weekend away for ages and we decided to push the boat out by booking this five star hotel and treating ourselves. Now, we weren't counting on some Australian friends ringing us the week before and gatecrashing our party but hey, that's all part of the fun tapestry of life! I did have to promise the hubs an extra weekend away though, which I've just booked and will be blogging about in a few weeks. So, another room was quickly booked, a Facebook plea sent out for extra tickets for the gig and within 12 hours we were sorted. I had not realized that the hotel was so new. Like, 'new new'. Parts of it were not yet opened,like the covered walkway that takes you directly into the O2, and the stores. But we were delighted when we got to our rooms and realized we were probably the first people sleeping in the beds. Even more delighted when room service appeared with a bottle of red and some sweet canapés following a brief misunderstanding in reception! Although one of my Aussie mates complained the bed was a bit too hard, other than that, the hotel, it's restaurant (order the pheasant, yum!) , and oh, the ahhhhmaaazzzing roof top bar with great views across the skyline, was faultless. We would have gone back and stayed again for our return visit this time to see Dynamo, the magician. But with two teenagers in tow, and the fact it was Easter hols and a late booking, the rates were nudging our budget into the uncomfortable range. After a search of nearby hotels, I booked us at the Hilton Canary Wharf into a family room. This time, we took the train and tube and packing only bare essentials for the one night stay, decided to do a bit more 'touristy stuff' as we had the kids with us. With a 15 and 16 year old, sightseeing is always going to be a challenge ("why?" it's boring" etc) with us, we decided to head straight for Westfield Shopping Centre in Stratford, just a couple of stops along the Jubilee line from Canary Wharf. Pleased them no end and I got an hour's shopping to myself! Hurrah! A quick fuel stop at the kid's favourite, Shake Shack (extremely expensive but extremely good milkshake concoctions, and admittedly, great chips) we headed to the Hilton to check in and get ready for the show. I think I was expecting the lobby to be bustling with 1980's yuppies wearing slick suits and saying 'yah' a lot, but it was a lot more casual, and dare I say it, even had a homely feel to it. The receptionist, all smiley and welcoming, wanted to know where we had been and what we were doing. At the same time she was cunningly upgrading us to a larger family room, and even threw in a free movie and free popcorn whenever we fancied it if we would just care to ring room service to order at our leisure. This blew the kids away. Hilton Canary Wharf already on top spot of their hotels top ten. It must have taken us only ten minutes door to door via the tube to get to the O2 and the same coming back (and that wasn't by the magical powers of Dynamo, who was very good, by the way). So much easier than the almost three hour journey we could have faced to get home. Housekeeping had been in while we were out making up the extra beds and whilst hubby and I had a cheeky last drink in the downstairs bar, the teens were all over the ordering of movies and popcorn. As we were 'room only', the following morning we checked out, happy with our stay, and headed off a couple of stops along the Jubilee Line to London Bridge and walked straight into the magnificent gastronomic delight that is Borough Market. After feasting our eyes on the available gourmet options we had brekkie, perused the stalls, smelt the cheese, ate copious samples, took photos, purchased freshly made all-natural granola and then headed of to, errrr, lunch! Ages ago we had made a reservation at the Hard Rock Café as a treat for the kids, so it would be rude not to go now, right? It was over 20 years since my last visit, and it didn't disappoint, with everyone suitably belly bursting following the mountains of food it is famed for. And who can moan about being sat underneath Mick Jagger's purple velour jacket from the 70's?! Covent Garden beckoned next, a quick walk around, shops, street entertainers, more refreshments, but not for much longer. We had officially tired them out! So with our bags on our back, and an extra one to accommodate the purchases from my sneaky hour in Westfield, we headed off back to Waterloo and back home. Happy that we had crammed so much fun stuff into 24 hours, and happy to have a whole bunch of new memories in the bank.
A small selection of other attractions we also could have visited: * Crossed the Thames on the Emirates Air Line * Visited the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park * Taken in the View at The Shard * The London Eye, the London Dungeons, Madame Tussauds, the Aquarium....the list is endless and I've run out of space!
All words and pictures copyright Nicola Donaldson